Sunday, February 24, 2013

Church of the Savior

Today we worshiped at Church of the Savior, 420 Maplewood Avenue, Ambridge, PA 15003, 724.266.4412, www.cotsambridge.org, Dennett Buettner, Rector.

 
Scripture: (ESV) –

Leviticus 25:35-46 –
“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.

“If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: he shall be with you as a hired servant and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God. As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.

Psalm 27 –
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!

For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.

Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

Luke 4:14-21
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

 
Bob’s thoughts:

We seldom get to a church so close, so ten miles or so seemed like next door. The welcome made it feel that way too, as we were welcomed by a number of people and most invited us to stay after for lunch.

There was good signage and restroom locations were noted in the bulletin. The bulletin also included an order of worship along with much-appreciated information on Communion. I was very happy to see a large cross draped with purple, and I respected the worship leaders’ gathering for prayer before the service.

I was concerned about the lack of young people and children, but they filtered in as the service started. It was good to see the animation of the congregation during the singing and the joy from the music leaders.

I could only understand a word or two from the message as the speaker was from Kenya. I would catch a phrase very clearly then a few minutes not understanding anything. I wondered if Jan might be able to get more from the sermon because of her mission trips to Malawi.

I enjoyed the young man Jason who spoke on an upcoming mission opportunity working with teen moms and tending to their children. He spoke loudly and clearly and I don’t believe he used a microphone. It is a mission he is passionate about and it comes across in his voice.

We were able to talk a little more in depth with some people after the service, including a pastor who has done missionary work in Brazil. This is an area dear to my heart ever since one of our daughters’ service at an orphanage there. Seems to be an emphasis on mission from those we talked to.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

We were greeted genuinely and often, first by a handful of people prior to the service and by twice as many afterward. Probably 6-8 invited us to join the monthly fellowship lunch following worship.

The directional signage was excellent.

The projection screen was used for the Scripture, liturgy, and music, making the order of worship easy to follow.

When the children were called forward, there was a brief prayer before they were dismissed for children’s church.

The woman who gave the message today is from Kenya, but I don’t know her identity. My ears still tune in to voices from Africa, but between the slight echo (which was not an issue at all otherwise) and my lack of preparedness, my ear did not decipher her words so quickly. Consequently I regrettably missed a good deal of what she had to say although what I did catch was right on.

She mentioned that many things are hard to truly understand without first-hand experience (amen to that!), and that to treat someone as a slave is to undo what God did in the Exodus. She spoke to the importance of treating people with dignity; she pointed out that poverty makes people vulnerable and our duty is to relieve them of their vulnerability. Also that some are poor in spirit and some in material things, and some are poor in both, and that the kindness we show to those in need originates with God.

In post-worship conversations we learned much about the missional activity within the Anglican Church and I was grateful for the folks who were happy to talk with us about the topic.


Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You will continue to encourage this church in mission. Please bless their efforts and send them in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

New Hope Community Church

Today we worshiped at New Hope Community Church, 592 Beaver Road, Ambridge, PA 15003, 724.266.0890, www.4newhope.org, Rick Thornhill, Pastor.

 
Scripture: Romans 7:14-8:2 –
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.

For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Sprit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.


Bob’s thoughts:

When I realized where this church is I had some real misgivings about worshiping there, but when I prayed about it I felt that we were called to be there. I admit I did not expect to find Christ there. We had visited about five years ago and the person who delivered the message preached a very skewed Scripture. I do not remember the specifics except that there was some requirement to be acceptable to Christ. I am so pleased that God led us back and met with us in worship here.

We were welcomed as warmly as I remembered from our first visit but today we were welcomed in Christ.

From where we were sitting I couldn’t see the cross but was relieved to see one later.

The pastor related how in preparing for this service he felt God calling for a time of healing. A number of people came forward and were prayed over individually. This is a ministry dear to my heart as God has blessed me with the gift of healing. It was a good opportunity to not only pray for those requesting healing, but the pastor and his wife as well.

The heating system was inoperable and there was one space heater for the worship area, but with the love of Jesus it was more than enough.

In his message the pastor revealed that when we visited there were others preaching or leading the service, but he started by sharing how God brought him to where he serves today. By sharing his struggles in faith he became real to those he was trying to reach.

I was remembering one of the devotionals I read this morning. It contained a quote from “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life” by Hannah Whitall Smith who related a sentence from an old book: “Never indulge, at the close of an action, in any self-reflective acts of any kind, whether of self-congratulation or of self-despair. Forget the things that are behind, the moment they are past, leaving them with God.”

Good advice for Paul, for ministers, for us all. Without Christ we are all hopeless sinners. Our sinful nature is hard to overcome, and that struggle is a sign of our salvation. Were we not trying to be like Christ we would not care about our backsliding.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

When we walked into church this morning, I realized we had visited this church once before – and left in the middle of the service due to theological differences. This had to be at least 4½ years ago as it was before we were blogging (i.e., keeping track of our visits). That remains the only worship service we ever left for that reason. But today we received a lesson in newness in the Spirit.

I’ve known unbelievers who seemed hopeless, whom I was tempted to write off, but when Christ came into their lives they literally changed overnight. Well, God has done the same sort of work in this church. This church is not the same church we visited several years ago. What we heard being taught at our previous visit here was absolutely wrong, but what we heard today was Biblical, Christ-focused, and God-glorifying.

We were invited to partake of donuts and coffee and greeted early and often. It was a joy to see so many children of all ages among this diverse congregation.

Toward the beginning of the service the pastor indicated he had been moved by the Spirit to pray for those who were ill. The pastor and another gentleman testified about God’s healing power over cancer and a 3rd degree burn, respectively, and many people came forward for the pastor and his wife to lay hands and pray over them.

I loved that as the children were dismissed for Kids’ Church, the congregation prayed over them with raised hands. I’ve seen this done a couple of other places, and it’s always such a striking picture of what a church should be to the children God has entrusted to their care.

The message, “Pursuit of Happiness,” was part of a series entitled “Power of the Gospel.”

Some of the best messages include personal stories, and that was the case today. His moving account of when he first began to answer God’s call was a perfect illustration of the Scripture. He spoke to the sin nature with which we’re born and God’s faithfulness when we fail. He emphasized that there are no quick fixes or shortcuts, and the closer we get to the Light, the more obvious imperfections become…a wonderful point, I thought.

He also suggested specific steps to help in our attempts to kill the sin nature: 1 – have a plan that includes daily time of devotion and prayer; 2 – make church attendance a priority; 3 – join a home group for study and fellowship; 4 – don’t let the devil have a foothold because “you’re not that strong;” and 5 – have people in your life to whom you stay accountable.

He urged the congregation to share their struggles and be honest, to walk the middle ground between being a legalistic church full of “happy plastic people” (his thought but words from Casting Crowns’ song “Stained Glass Masquerade”) or an “anything goes” church where you do whatever you want.

Amens echoed from the congregation throughout the message, which tells me these are real people who understand struggle and seeking. I hope God sends us back to this church.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we lift up this church for Your continued blessing and encouragement. We pray You will keep them from becoming “plastic church people,” that they may live to glorify You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Presbyterian Church, Sewickley

Today we worshiped at The Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, 414 Grant Street, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.741.4550, www.sewickleypresby.org, Rev. Kevin Long, Senior Pastor.

 
Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11 –
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“’He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

We were invited back to this church and had been looking forward to the visit. Although we missed the person who extended the invitation, we got to meet some other interesting people after the service.

The church will be celebrating their 175th anniversary, and I could sense the anticipation. The building is typical of older Presbyterian churches, stone and woodwork and exceptional stained glass. I was happy to see the larger brass cross and some good Communion banners, along with good signage.

We were greeted going in by the senior pastor and a Marine, so I felt at home. The prelude included a verse in an African tongue, which we found welcoming. I appreciated the enthusiasm and smiles from the praise team.

The sermon was the conclusion of a series on the temptations of Christ and made me wish I had heard some of the earlier messages. The devil tried to encourage Christ to skip the parts that many believers struggle with: the cross, beating, and blood. “You can have your kingdom now, just fudge a little bit.”

Our temptations are similar: just give a little and next time a little more. A great line: “You become like the God that you worship.” It was interesting that last week’s message was similar. (God might be trying to get my/our attention.)

It was explained that liturgy came from words meaning “public works,” that our worship is the end not the means, not “what did I get out of that,” but “for others - public works.”

 
Jan’s thoughts:

We returned to this church and were surprised at the difference. I recall as we left our previous visit here being certain God would not call us to return because no one knew we were here. But God knew, and I guess that was enough.

This time we attended the 9:00 contemporary service, which is more relaxed. We arrived with little time to spare so the unmistakable directions to the restrooms were helpful. As we entered the sanctuary we were greeted by the pastor and another gentleman who, along with numerous others we met, wore nametags. This may seem like a small thing, but from this visitor’s perspective, it’s an incredibly hospitable gesture.

It was next to impossible for me to sit still once the African music began, and it was a treat! Likely not everyone’s spirit is moved by it, but one of the wonderful things about music is how it can transport you right back to another continent.

One of the local recipients of this church’s mission efforts is the Center for Hope, to which we have grown close in the time we’ve been in this area.

The Minute for Mission provided an opportunity for three confirmands to talk about how they chose to invest $100 they were given to help others, aka the TTT (time, talent, and treasure) Projects. One spoke of organizing a dance to raise money for Parkinson’s research, a second to raise money for a clean water project, and a third involved building a new house for a family of Haitians. With a total of 16 members of the Confirmation Class, it seems a lot of mission is being accomplished.

The sermon, “Selling Your Soul,” concluded a series on temptation. He pointed out how Satan’s final enticement of Christ included “a shortcut to accomplishing His very mission – Christ’s ownership of all the kingdoms of the world…the crown without the cross.”

After a reminder that “you become like the God you worship,” came the question: what is our god? His suggestions included “our country, our dreams, our security, our children…ourselves.” He concluded with a passionate reminder that “liturgy is the work of the people, and worship is what we’re here for.” We need to resist dealing with the devil lest it become “all about us.”

I’d say he preached with a relaxed passion, if there is such a thing, and his friendly style seems to have been contagious.

Following the service several people greeted us and introduced themselves as they walked past, and we chatted about African music, Malawi, and experiences surrounding the Partnership between the Synod of Blantyre and Pittsburgh Presbytery. I had forgotten that Aubrey Briggs is a member of this church. Although I’m sure he would not remember me, I would enjoy greeting him all the same.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to encourage this church that they may continue to grow in service to others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon

Today we worshiped at Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon, 7501 Church Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15202, 412.761.1233, www.cpcba.com, Rev. Dr. Donald R. Ewing, Interim Pastor.

Scripture:

Psalm 71:1-6 –
In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.

Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me.

Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of evil and cruel men.

For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.

From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you.

Jeremiah 1:4-10 –
The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overflow, to build and to plant.”

Luke 4:14-30 –
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

“I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed – only Naaman the Syrian.”

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were redirected to Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon where we were warmly welcomed by a number of people and reacquainted with some friends.

Ben Avon is a traditional stone and massive woodwork Presbyterian Church and has a great cross hanging over the chancel. I didn’t realize how much that symbol means to me until I worshiped in churches that seem to be embarrassed by the cross.

I couldn't help but reflect on what an overwhelming challenge it must be to try to warm a sanctuary of this size on cold Sundays.

I was happy to see youth and adults as part of the worship; it’s great to spread that ownership of the church. I sensed a lot more spirit in the congregation than our last visit…the church is alive.

The sermon wove around Christ’s reading from the Torah in His hometown.

I was pondering how we are just the same, we feel Christ owes us a miracle and sorrowfully would not accept Him for Who He is. We are amazed at the faith failures we read of in the Bible and have trouble admitting what hopeless failures we also are but for the saving grace of Christ.

God has used me to bring miraculous healing in two churches where I was a member. In both there was cause to leave not long after and in both the person who was healed also left. It seems we are uncomfortable if it doesn’t fit the “what about me” mold.

I appreciated the elements of Communion being carried in and presented to the pastor. Communion was served, but silently, and I appreciated the choir solos during Communion. I also enjoyed the anthems presented by the youth and the adults.

I have been thinking a lot this week about the number of people who know Christ. They can preach the Scriptures and know a lot about God. I have been impressed how they can dissect and explain nuances of Scripture. I’ve been told how we should behave, what we should believe, and what we should go and do. I am disappointed to realize some of the most academic scholars of God know a lot about God but don’t know Christ.

I was happy to worship with a pastor who knows Jesus.

Jan’s thoughts:

We visited this church one year ago almost to the day and returned by invitation of a member/friend. I realized today that we know more than a few people at this church.

We were greeted warmly the moment we walked in, and the conversations continued throughout our visit, some with friends and others with folks we had not met until today. I found the friendliness and ease of conversation heartening and all the greetings made me feel truly welcomed.

The signage at this facility is phenomenal.

This church has a beautiful chancel and gorgeous woodwork throughout the sanctuary. It’s an appropriate setting for a traditional Presbyterian worship service.

The numerous children of the congregation are permitted to help in the worship service. I was glad we were sitting so close to the front to be able to witness the young acolyte being guided by an older girl as she oversaw the candle lighting. So sweet!

The Junior Choir consisted of eight youth. They sang from the opposite side of the sanctuary from us and I could hear them perfectly. Also impressive was that they sang from memory.

The sermon, “What About Us?” spoke to what it was like for Jesus to return to Nazareth. The pastor pointed out that the people had high expectations that Jesus would “pull out all the stops and put on an exceptional show. They watched Him grow up…in their minds He owed them a miracle.”

Jesus responded to these expectations by pointing out that the widow to whom Elijah was sent was not a Jew, and Naaman, whom Elisha cured of leprosy, was also a foreigner, and those who heard Him understood what He was telling them…that “God blesses the least, not those who think they deserve it.” These people were waiting for something for themselves, and when it became obvious they would not receive what they thought they were due, they moved to kill Jesus; however Jesus “slipped away.”

The pastor asked if that isn’t what people believe today…”Our religion has to count for something.” Being a Christ-follower is not about us, but about Christ…and about His other children who are not yet part of His Body.

At the same time, it IS about us. As followers we are not promised a life free of pain or suffering or loss, but we are promised the Presence of Christ through all of life’s ups and downs and an eternity with Him when we die.

I am grateful God led us to this church this week, happy to have renewed friendships, and thankful to have heard this thought-provoking message.

Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You will open our eyes and our hearts and remind us that it is not about us, but all about others. Bless us with discernment that we may know Your voice, that we may know You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.